The issue is redevelopment, but the word that triggers the wrath of downtown property owners is “blight.” To shed light on this controversial issue the city will hold a public meeting and present its take on the redevelopment plan on Thursday.
However, Mayor Johnny Piper has denied a request by the Clarksville Property Rights Coalition for equal time to air their view of the “blight bill” during a hearing to be held at Austin Peay State University’s Clement Auditorium Thursday at 6 p.m.
Atty. John Summers requested a time equal to the that of the city’s presenters to offer the concerns of the affected residents. Since the Downtown District Partnership is presenting a 15-minute program, that would have given property owners their own 15-minute voice on the issue before the question and answer session begins.
Ordinance 73-2005-06, passed in November, 2007, designates two square miles and 1800 homes and businesses in downtown Clarksville as “blighted” and potentially subject to eminent domain as the Downtown District Partnership’s Clarksville Redevelopment Plan and Land Use Master Plan are implemented over the next several years.
The ordinance includes a provision for the taking of property by eminent domain for transfer to developers (clearly stated in the ordinance), and includes an assemblage clause that would allow property takings for the purpose of “assembling” a land parcel package for a specific project, though unlike most redevelopment packages, this ordinance did not include any specific projects. The only land exempt from the blighted designation is Austin Peay State University, where the Thursday hearing will be held. The city says the plan allows it to create a tax-incentive zone to spur development in underused areas.
John Summers, a Nashville Attorney representing the CPRC, the Tennessee Preservation Trust and the Clarksville NAACP, asked for equal time to air the views and concerns of the residents affected by this ordinance. He was denied. In a communique, Mayor Piper indicated that to allow equal time would defeat the purpose of the meeting, which he described as an opportunity for the city to present and explain the plan.
The Downtown District Partnership will offer a fifteen minute presentation on the plan before taking questions and answers. Summers said the time-limited Q&A is a “well used strategy” that keeps the opposing voices from getting their message out. Rather than allow citizens to voice their concerns in a unified presentation, a Q&A session will field those questions in short bursts, one at a time.
Two standing-room-only meetings on this issue were held in December, one at the HOPE Center on Legion Street and the other several days later at the Train Station. Both meetings were attended by overflow crowds representing a cross section of Clarksville citizens: rich, poor, black, white, Hispanic, old, young, working, retired … the unifying factor was anger over the finer points of a law they feel was “slipped” past them and resentment over the City administrators apparent unresponsiveness to their concerns. A majority of officials and council members attended neither citizen-organized program on this issue.